back to article Jun-OH-NO! NASA's Jupiter probe in busted helium-valve drama

NASA's Juno probe will not venture any closer to Jupiter, and will stay in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of its mission. That's due to faulty helium valves in the propulsion system, space boffins announced today. The spacecraft has been circling the gas giant since July 2016. NASA scientists had planned to fire …

  1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Well, crap....

    So I guess the Juno mission is going to be a bit of a what-could-have-been. That's disappointing, after all the successes that NASA has had in the last few years with Curiousity, Dawn, New Horizons and other missions

  2. bazza Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    Maybe, it sounds like it's the rate at which they get to do interesting science is reduced (once every 56 days), rather than a complete cessation. That's not so bad really, considering.

    I agree, they most certainly have been very successful indeed. I think that the entire run of missions going back to the 1960s, 70s, including the European, Japanese, Russian and others, has overall been a stunning display of just what engineers and scientists can pull off when given the chance. The value for money, even including the failures and difficulties, has been very good indeed.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Well, crap....

    So I guess the Juno mission is going to be a bit of a what-could-have-been. That's disappointing, after all the successes that NASA has had in the last few years with Curiousity, Dawn, New Horizons and other missions

    Unless something else goes wrong (which of course it might), Juno should still be able to achieve all of its primary science objectives - although it may take longer than initially planned. I think writing it off as a failure is a bit premature.

    I also find it useful to think about it in terms of money: Juno mission cost is about US$1.1 billion (US billion, not the UK one). This sounds like a lot, but it is only 15% of the annual military budget of a country like Indonesia (which happens to be the 30th-highest military spender in the world). It is also less than 17 hours worth of the US military spending, and less than 6 hours worth of the military expenditure by our planet as the whole.

    Think about what we could have achieved if instead of pointlessly arming ourselves to the eyebrows (the stage of arming ourselves to the teeth has been passed a long time ago) we would have invested at least a fraction of these resources into science, technology, environment preservation, and social justice.

  4. lawndart

    Re: Well, crap....

    The failed orbital reduction manoeuvre does not affect the closest approach to Jupiter, so there will be no reduction in the quality of the spacecraft's data collection. The data will be arriving in 53.5 day intervals instead of 14 day. The spacecraft is in a 90 degree polar orbit intended to cover the entirety of Jupiter's surface during the 14 day orbit part of the mission so it may take many more passes to successfully complete the mapping. I'm wondering whether Jupiter's moons and other bits of gravel it has orbiting it will perturb Juno's path by much. The current orbit's apoapsis is in a gap between a pair of the major moon groups.

  5. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    Hopefully the electronics will last the extended duration of the mission. If there's one thing JPL have a track record on it's making tough little critters that far exceed their intended lifetime. So fingers crossed.

  6. druck

    Re: Well, crap....

    (US billion, not the UK one)

    Oh please keep up at the back, the UK hasn't used the long scale billion since 1975.

  7. Jan 0

    Re: Well, crap....


    Speak for yourself sunshine. When I write 10^12 I mean a billion, not one thousand million (10^9). Don't change usage. Australia is still the largest island in the world and London stops well before Croydon.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "Hopefully the electronics will last the extended duration of the mission. "

    They will.

    The 56 day orbit duration puts it much further away from Jupiter as a radiation source, which is where most of the radiation comes from.

  9. Schultz Silver badge

    ... the long scale billion

    Can we just agree on the k$, M$, G$ scale? SI units do maker life so much easier (bless the French!). Or we could compromise and use the Chinese units 万 (1e4), 亿 (1e8), 兆 (1e12).

  10. jake Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    JPL is the project manager for the overall mission, but "the tough little critter" was actually built by Lockheed Martin.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Re: "Hopefully the electronics will last the extended duration of the mission. "

    Jupiter itself isn't much of a radiation source. Its magnetosphere, however ...

  12. jake Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    Jan 0, might want to re-parse what you replied to. druck clearly typed "the UK" ... last I checked, Australia wasn't a part of the UK.

  13. Tom 64

    Re: Well, crap....

    Was always a bit dubious about the success of this mission tbh.

    Seems almost like they chucked this one together from off-the-shelf parts on a shoestring budget.

    I mean, why not fit this probe out with a RTEG powerplant and ion drive? Less working parts, more efficient use of fuel and waaay longer lifespan in spaaace.

    Mine's the one with flame-retardant lining.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Well, crap....

    I mean, why not fit this probe out with a RTEG powerplant and ion drive?

    At least two reasons: the mission launch has about 1% probability of failure, with a high likelihood of the RTG being damaged or destroyed upon reentry. The resulting cleanup can be rather expensive (just ask Canadians about Kosmos 954 - and that thing fell in the middle of nowhere). Unless there is no technically viable alternative, using RTG or nuclear reactors is just a little too risky these days.

    The second, and less important reason is that NASA has nearly exhausted its stock of the preferred RTG fuel - Pu-238. The US has not produced any for a while: it has been much cheaper to buy Pu-238 and other isotopes (including Po-210 and H-3) from Russia, which invested heavily in isotope production and separation facilities. With the current relations being what they are, the chances of the Congress authorizing more purchases are rather slim.

  15. jake Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    Because the ignorant hand-wringers had enough clout to ensure that RTGs were politically incorrect during the final design phase. Prats.

  16. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

    Re: Well, crap....


    Jan 0 wasn't saying anything about Australia being part of the UK, he was pointing out Australia is still an island.

    Can you give the date that the American billion officially replaced the real billion this side of the Atlantic?

  17. The First Dave

    Re: ... the long scale billion

    Lets just stick with Lakh and Crore then we all know where we are.

  18. tiggity Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    Not official but in (I think) 74 Gov UK stats started to use US billion instead of UK billion.

    But as most UK govt stats are a dubious work of fiction (e.g. lots of convenient ways to make jobless totals far less than they actually are) and need various mental gymnastics to process I still use "proper" UK billion and just treat UK stats as Amercianised when calculating what they really mean.

  19. jake Silver badge

    Re: Well, crap....

    not.known@this.address, Jan 0's commentardary was non sequitur at best. Nobody was talking about Australia until she brought it up. We were discussing the UK and how may zeros in a billion. (The answer to the last is obvious ... ALL of them!)

  20. jake Silver badge

    One of the locals ...

    ... was looking for a cold one & broke it.

  21. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Re: One of the locals ...

    Or, they broke it because they didn't want us to get too close and find out what's really there.

  22. Captain DaFt

    Re: One of the locals ...

    Or it's deliberately reporting false errors to prolong its life:

    "It also means Juno will spend less time in the firing line of the gas giant’s lethal radiation belts, so it should last longer in space."

    It might be smarter than they thought! ☺

  23. jake Silver badge

    Re: One of the locals ...

    Not that smart ... It runs a RAD750 CPU (radiation hardened PowerPC750).

  24. Black Rat

    So once the public forget about it we can rendezvous with the anomaly

  25. David 164

    Presumably once it primary mission is completed, Nasa will risk tightening the orbit? or will it stay at it 53 day orbit until they decide to crash it into Jupiter's?

  26. wolfetone Silver badge

    When will NASA build a robotic attachment to these probes that, in the event of a valve sticking, a robotic arm will just pound it with a lump hammer until it started working again?

    We had it on the Jetsons, why can't we have it in space NASA?!

  27. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    My God

    Its full of stars

  28. jake Silver badge

    Re: My God

    No, it's only a part of a single proto-star. Probably another 40% more mass needed (or thereabouts) before ignition.

  29. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Re: My God

    @Jake: Reference is from 2001: A space Odyssey

  30. jake Silver badge

    Re: My God

    WOW! What an innovative comment! I never would have guessed!

  31. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Note while it's in a stable orbit NASA can look at safe ways to lower its orbit

    without firing the main engine. Possibly by some tricky solar sail effects on the solar wind, maybe attitude thrusters, if Juno has any.

    JPL put a lot of work in engine design for hypergols during the 1960's and 70's that's served them pretty well. Valve sticking is one of the areas they spent a lot of work on . It's quite tricky. You want a hard coating to resist attack by aggressive chemicals (and both propellants are aggressive) but you'd like a soft coating like a rubber O ring to seal well and stop leakage.

    They also developed some of the baseline ways to model injector sprays and develop injectors capable of 10:1 thrust modulation.

  32. Axman

    As an aside to the actual article...

    ... that's one hell of a video trailer. When's the film coming out?

  33. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    Re: As an aside to the actual article...

    indeed. The only thing missing was a Don LaFontaine-like* voiceover.

    *sadly, we would have to make do with an imitation as the most recognizable voice in movie trailers died about nine years ago.

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